Usability Principles

Web pages should be easy to use and content understandable by the average user. The purpose of usability is to design websites that allow visitors to the site to complete a task, solve a problem, express an opinion, or find an answer to a question quickly and easily. The purpose of the website should be self-evident to the user. Poor web page design leads to wasted time, reduced productivity, increased frustration, loss of confidence, inaccuracies, and loss of repeat visits.

Visibility of System Status

The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within a reasonable time.

Match Between System and the Real World

The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

User Control and Freedom

Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. One method of accomplishing this is known as breadcrumb navigation. Breadcrumb Navigation helps the user identify their place in the site and provides the control to “escape” and return to the home page quickly.

Consistency and Standards

Consistency in layout elements will increase usability. Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.

Error Prevention

Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-Prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.

Recognition Rather Than Recall

Minimize the user’s memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.

Aesthetic and Minimalist Design

A website should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Too much information diminishes relative visibility and importance of important information. Use images sparingly and make sure they are relevant to the content and function of the site.

Help Users Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover From Errors

Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

Help and Documentation

Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

Good Usability Resolves:

  • Irrelevant search engine results
  • Site navigation that is inconsistent and not readily apparent to the user
  • Use of program jargon, acronyms and bureaucratic language
  • Content that is not written for the web
  • Difficult to read web pages

Benefits of Usable Websites

More and more people expect to be able to conduct their business online. It is critically important to not only make information and services available to people online, but that is made available in a manner that is easy to find and use.

By applying the principles of usability to websites:

  • Increase the likelihood that users will choose to get information and perform tasks online, which will reduce more expensive phone and office contacts
  • Improve customer satisfaction and trust in government
  • Reduce maintenance costs and increase effective use of staff time


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